Last week Guardian columnist George Monbiot led one of the Newcastle University Insight lectures titled; ‘Out of the wreckage: a new politics for an age of crisis’ based on his book of the same name.
The lecture was so popular that not only did he fill out the whole Curtis Auditorium, Newcastle’s largest lecture theatre, but it was live- streamed to another lecture theatre across the corridor which was also completely full. Monbiot delivered the talk with absolute lucidity and conviction, and opened by identifying the interlocking crises that the world suffers from: Economic, environmental, and political as well as crises of racism and sexism.
He argues that these crises arise from the individual accepting the ideology of blame that is advertised to us, and because we internalise this it creates a psychological rupture. This he believes leads to a collapse in mental health, increased levels of loneliness and alienation from society. Monbiot emphasises narrative as a successful method of influence. Statistics we find alienating, and as humans we do not make sense of them as easily as we do a story. This leads people into becoming disillusioned by statistics and believing them to be a conspiracy. He spoke about the narrative structure that is used in every political and religious institution, which has been used pretty much since the beginning of time.
The story is a simple one: There is a problem in the land. Against all odds a group of people rescue them from this problem. They are able to restore order in the land once more. This simply story structure can be interchanged with different groups of people and problems and it is his belief that even after the 2008 financial crash, the world is still hung up on a neoliberal narrative because we have not replaced it. Noting ‘you can’t take away someone’s story without replacing it with a new one.’
Despite it boosting the economy, continued neoliberal growth means that we crash through the planet’s finite boundaries. He acknowledges as a Zoologist, that the material economy is killing our planet. To progress we need to be satisfied with what we have and rid ourselves of the mentality that continued personal gain is desirable beyond necessity. He argues that we should strive for private sufficiency and public luxury, using the example of transport in cities. Why would you buy a car to get stuck in traffic going into the city, when you could pay for a new metro to for everyone to get to where they need quicker?
He outlines what part the individual can play in undermining this crisis. He advocates working as a community so people feel a sense of belonging, he acknowledges society has become atomized, noting that ‘lonely people are drawn to fascism.’ He explains we can achieve this simply by eating together, an essential practice in companionship and to normalize community involvement. He notes that social initiatives keep people going, with goals to work to, when the individual is separate to the community they are more vulnerable to self- centred politics.
Interestingly, Monbiot spoke about the techniques used by Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of filtering his politics into the communities, thinking on a local level about the people who live there, and having it articulated from the people who know it best. The minds from this campaign went on to advise Labout Party candidate Jeremy Corbyn and helped achieve the biggest surprise in British Democratic history, the result of the 2017 General election, wherein the Conseratives lost their majority in Parliament and Labour made significant gains.
Monbiot’s talk was really insightful and his politics of belonging seemed utterly convincing as a legitimate way to act to minimize the present interlocking crises. In a world of Trump and Bolsonaro, Monbiot’s new narrative comes at a desperate time for the world.